From roads to the skies, millions are expected to travel for Thanksgiving

If you're heading home for the holiday, you're definitely not alone. Airports and roads are expected to be extremely busy, with experts saying the number of travelers will likely reach pre-pandemic levels.

Determined to reclaim Thanksgiving traditions that were put on pause last year by the pandemic, millions of Americans will be loading up their cars or piling onto planes to gather again with friends and family. Auto club AAA predicts there will be an estimated 53.4 million people hitting the road in the country.

And getting to where you need to go will also cost a lot more this year. The national average for a gallon of gas is at $3.40 – up 60% over last year.

The number of air travelers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels, and AAA predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period, an increase of nearly 4 million over last year despite sharply higher gasoline prices. With recent delays, staff shortages, and mass cancellations, some worry travelers could be in for a bumpy ride.

Airlines are hoping to avoid a repeat of the massive flight cancellations — more than 2,300 apiece — that dogged Southwest and American Airlines at different times last month.

More than 2.2 million travelers streamed through airport checkpoints last Friday, the busiest day since the pandemic devastated travel early last year. From Friday through Monday, the number of people flying in the U.S. was more than double the same days last year and only 8% lower than the same days in 2019.

READ: ‘Be patient, be prepared’: TPA expects 80,000 travelers this holiday season

In Florida, air travel is believed to be up almost 80% this holiday, over last year. The number of drivers hitting the roads also rallying nearly 10%. 

Tampa International Airport expects to see more than 80,000 travelers pass through their doors during peak holiday travel days. They’re encouraging passengers to be prepared and arrive at least two hours before their flight. Even though Tampa International Airport prides itself on having short TSA lines and quickly getting passengers to where they need to go, the holiday season is not the time to test their luck.

However, TPA is making the holiday travel rush a little easier with the addition of the new blue curbside express lane. The new curbside is specifically for passengers who can bypass the ticketing level and have no checked bags, getting them to their gate quickly.

RELATED: Tampa Airport passengers can now bypass ticket levels, head straight to gate

The busiest travel day is expected to be this upcoming Sunday. Experts say the best bet is to give yourself plenty of time before your flight and set up text alerts with your airline to stay on top of any delays or schedule changes.

Many feel emboldened by the fact that nearly 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. But it also means brushing aside concerns about a resurgent virus at a time when the U.S. is now averaging nearly 100,000 new infections a day and hospitals in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona are seeing alarming increases in patients.

MORE: NHTSA ramps up anti-DUI campaign ahead of busy holiday travel

The seven-day daily average of new reported cases up nearly 30% in the last two weeks through Tuesday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people should not travel, although it is unclear whether that recommendation is having any effect.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration is dismissing concern that it might have staffing shortages at airport checkpoints this week because of a requirement that federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. White House officials said 93% of TSA employees are in compliance with the mandate, and they don’t expect any disruptions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report